Parliamentarians, Permits and Perfidy


By Dr. U. Pethiyagoda

There must be many like me, rejoicing at the RTI Act, which established its serious intent by disclosure of the perfidy surrounding the matter of Duty Free vehicle Permits issued to Parliamentarians. Much yet clearly remains to be exposed – as it is astonishingly stated that many more transfers have been effected, informally and avoiding scrutiny by the registering authority. Detailed information must be secured. Some may have simply flogged their permits. We await them all being exposed.

Not only are our politicians bereft of a sense of shame, but they also have the effrontery to suggest that these sales are permissible in order to defray election expenses and also that the practice is sanctified by its dating back to when the facility was first introduce. Such arguments are ridiculous and bordering on crass stupidity. Bandula Gunawardana (the economist) should be called upon to explain his remarkable reasoning .Is a thief excused because he robbed to buy milk for his child, or murderers be let off because it is a long existing practice? Good try, Mr. G!

The loss to the Exchequer has been astronomical – amounting to up to 35 Million Rupees per permit. Who should pay back this loss of State income? Clearlyit shouldnot the be Taxpayer public. The recovery should be from seller, the buyer or best, from both. This will have the salutary effect of deterring in future, both the players in this game.

In this disgraceful exercise, some names, however reluctantly, have to be named. How does Rathana Hamuduruwo square his conscience in respect of Vinaya Rules and his voluntarily subscribing to a pledge of poverty when donning the sacred robe.Udaya Gammanpila, Buddhika Pathirana, Vasantha Senanayake, Sujeewa Senasinghe,Palitha Thearapperuma and others, who try to project themselves as upholders of rectitude, have some explaining to do. Chamal Rajapaksa (Ex Speaker) and Ministers, Deputies and Juniors like Mohanla Grero, Nishantha Muttuhettige, Lakshman Kiriella, P.S (Sudarshinie?) Fernandopulle, Janaka. B. Tennakoon and Wasantha Aluvihare, should be ashamed of themselves. They are probably persons of great wealth who need not have rummaged the dustbins of privilege. Young and upcoming men like Dilum Amunugama and Lohan Ratwatte have done nothing to their future.

We remember with pride, Dudley Senanayake who drove his Triumph Herald, Premadasa who drove a Morris Minor and others like Dahanayake who was content to ride the train and probably several other worthy examples. Pandit Nehru is said to have self- driven a Morris Minor and no doubt even today, Indian Cabinet Members use the Hindustan. Is it intellectual dwarfs that need Land Cruisers and Monteros at state expense?

It is necessary, even belatedly to re-visit why MP’s were given vehicle permits. If they were a bribe,(as is deviously suggested) then doling cash with their ample endowments would have been simpler. If on the other hand, they were intended just as a conveyance to help them to conveniently discharge their duties as Parliamentarians,it is tolerable. How then do the PM and the Speaker lament poor attendance and the voters who rightly complain about not even seeing their representatives in the electorates except at election time?

If the objective was honestly addressed, the State could have purchased sufficient numbers of an acceptable model, and then issued them to members to use and return at the end of their term. This after all, is the condition when Government servants are entitled to official vehicles.At the moment there is gross and reckless abuse. Heaven knows what fiddles go on in the matter of fuel issues, driver’s wages etc. One particular Minister who returned lakhs worth of unused fuel vouchers, was hailed for his sacrifice, with no one being asked how he came by such a treasure trove! The whole business of vehicle permits has turned ugly and cries out for urgent review and reform.

The RTI Act is of only limited value if it ends with mere disclosure. In my view, the matter amounts to dishonesty and fraud and should attract judicial attention and punishment. Meanwhile, there are things the public could and should do.Here are some:-

(i) Refrain from inviting any of them for family functions. Exceptions are close relations and personal friends

(ii) Act to prevent their invitation to School events where they could be considered as role models by young minds.

(iii) While they are at liberty to address each other as "honourable", refrain from doing so yourself.

(iv) Make them aware that you will not vote for them and that they need not come canvassing

To compound matters further, a respected former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank makes the starting revelation that he estimates the cost of maintaining a Cabinet Minister at Rs 8.5 million a month. With a number of 47, this amounts to nearly Rs 5,000 Million (5 billion) per year. Such accomplishments at such cost! Anyone watching the daily news broadcasts on TV may be excused for believing that endless functions (Ussawato some), school Prize Givings, stone-layings, tree plantings, ribbon cuttings and sundry other irrelevancies, must take up an awful lot of their "valuable time". Surely, many of these chores can be left to lesser mortals, while the huge backlog of matters of State are attended to. Quite a few urgent tasks are deprived of the urgent attention that they need. Very often we hear of actions held up "until the Minister returns from abroad"! Unimportant travel abroad is another Can of Worms waiting to be opened. Another idea for the RTI?

When persons are as richly rewarded as Parliamentarians are, the public have a right to expect the highest standards of duty andconduct. Misconduct of any type, however slight, cannot be tolerated. In this instance the betrayal is extreme.

We are too small and too poor a country to support such unconscionable extravagance and officially ignored fraud. There is no other name possible for what is going on.

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